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"When ye gang awa, Jamie,
Far across the sea, laddie,
When ye gang to Germanie
What will ye send to me, laddie?"
Fides was the posy on the ring. That was all Anne could discover, and indeed only this much with the morning light of the July sun that penetrated the remotest corners. For the cabin was dark and stifling, and there was no leaving it, for both Miss Darpent and her attendant were so ill as to engross her entirely.
She could hardly leave them when there was a summons to a meal in the captain's cabin, and there she found herself the only passenger able to appear, and the rest of the company, though intending civility, were so rough that she was glad to retreat again, and wretched as the cabin was, she thought it preferable to the deck.
Mr. Fellowes, she heard, was specially prostrated, and jokes were passing round that it was the less harm, since it might be the worse for him if the crew found out that there was a parson on board.
Thus Anne had to forego the first sight of her native land, and only by the shouts above and the decreased motion of the vessel knew when she was within lee of the Isle of Wight, and on entering the Solent could encourage her companions that their miseries were nearly over, and help them to arrange themselves for going upon deck.
When at length they emerged, as the ship lay-to in sight of the red roofs and white steeples of Southampton, and of the green mazes of the New Forest, Mr. Fellowes was found looking everywhere for the pupil whom he had been too miserable to miss during the voyage. Neither Charles Archfield nor his servant was visible, but Mr. Fellowes's own man coming forward, delivered to the bewildered tutor a packet which he said that his comrade had put in his charge for the purpose. In the boat, on the way to land, Mr. Fellowes read to himself the letter, which of course filled him with extreme distress. It contained much of what Charles had already explained to Anne of his conviction that in the present state of affairs it was better for so young a man as himself, without sufficient occupation at home, to seek honourable service abroad, and that he thought it would spare much pain and perplexity to depart without revisiting home. He added full and well-expressed thanks for all that Mr. Fellowes had done for him, and for kindness for which he hoped to be the better all his life. He enclosed a long letter to his father, which he said would, he hoped, entirely exonerate his kind and much-respected tutor from any remissness or any participation in the scheme which he had thought it better on all accounts to conceal till the last.
"And indeed," said poor Mr. Fellowes, "if I had had any inkling of it, I should have applied to the English Consul to restrain him as a ward under trust. But no one would have thought it of him. He had always been reasonable and docile beyond his years, and I trusted him entirely. I should as soon have thought of our President giving me the slip in this way. Surely he came on board with us."
"He handed me into the boat," said Miss Darpent. "Who saw him last? Did you, Miss Woodford?"
Anne was forced to own that she had seen him on board, and her cheeks were in spite of herself such tell-tales that Mr. Fellowes could not help saying, "It is not my part to rebuke you, madam, but if you were aware of this evasion, you will have a heavy reckoning to pay to the young man's parents."
"Sir," said Anne, "I knew indeed that he meant to join the Imperial army, but I knew not how nor when."
"Ah, well! I ask no questions. You need not justify yourself to me, young lady; but Sir Philip and Lady Archfield little knew what they did when they asked us to come by way of Paris. Not that I regret it on all accounts," he added, with a courteous bow to Naomi which set her blushing in her turn. He avoided again addressing Miss Woodford, and she thought with consternation of the prejudice he might excite against her. It had been arranged between the two maidens that Naomi should be a guest at Portchester Rectory till she could communicate with Walwyn, and her father or brother could come and fetch her.
They landed at the little wharf, among the colliers, and made their way up the street to an inn, where, after ordering a meal to satisfy the ravenous sea-appetite, Mr. Fellowes, after a few words with Naomi, left the ladies to their land toilet, while he went to hire horses for the journey.
Then Naomi could not help saying, "O Anne! I did not think you would have done this. I am grieved!"
"You do not know all," said Anne sadly, "or you would not think so hardly."
"I saw you had an understanding with him. I see you have a new ring on your finger; but how could I suppose you would encourage an only son thus to leave his parents?"
"Hush, hush, Naomi!" cried Anne, as the uncontrollable tears broke out. "Don't you believe that it is quite as hard for me as for them that he should have gone off to fight those dreadful blood-thirsty Turks? Indeed I would have hindered him, but that--but that--I know it is best for him. No! I can't tell you why, but I know it is; and even to the very last, when he helped me down the companion- ladder, I hoped he might be coming home first."
"But you are troth-plight to him, and secretly?"
"I am not troth-plight; I know I am not his equal, I told him so, but he thrust this ring on me in the boat, in the dark, and how could I give it back!"
Naomi shook her head, but was more than half-disarmed by her friend's bitter weeping. Whether she gave any hint to Mr. Fellowes Anne did not know, but his manner remained drily courteous, and as Anne had to ride on a pillion behind a servant she was left in a state of isolation as to companionship, which made her feel herself in disgrace, and almost spoilt the joy of dear familiar recognition of hill, field, and tree, after her long year's absence, the longest year in her life, and substituted the sinking of heart lest she should be returning to hear of misfortune and disaster, sickness or death.
Her original plan had been to go on with Naomi to Portchester at once, if by inquiry at Fareham she found that her uncle was at home, but she perceived that Mr. Fellowes decidedly wished that Miss Darpent should go first to the Archfields, and something within her determined first to turn thither in spite of all there was to encounter, so that she might still her misgivings by learning whether her uncle was well. So she bade the man turn his horse's head towards the well-known poplars in front of Archfield House.
The sound of the trampling horses brought more than one well-known old 'blue-coated serving-man' into the court, and among them a woman with a child in her arms. There was the exclamation, "Mistress Anne! Sure Master Charles be not far behind," and the old groom ran to help her down.
"Oh! Ralph, thanks. All well? My uncle?"
"He is here, with his Honour," and in scarcely a moment more Lucy, swift of foot, had flown out, and had Anne in her embrace, and crying out--
"Ah, Charles! my brother! I don't see him."
Anne was glad to have no time to answer before she was in her uncle's arms. "My child, at last! God bless thee! Safe in soul and body!"
Sir Philip was there too, greeting Mr. Fellowes, and looking for his son, and with the cursory assurance that Mr. Archfield was well, and that they would explain, a hasty introduction of Miss Darpent was made, and all moved in to where Lady Archfield, more feeble and slow of movement, had come into the hall, and the nurse stood by with the little heir to be shown to his father, and Sedley Archfield stood in the background. It was a cruel moment for all, when the words came from Mr. Fellowes, "Sir, I have to tell you, Mr. Archfield is not here. This letter, he tells me, is to explain."
There was an outburst of exclamation, during which Sir Philip withdrew into a window with his spectacles to read the letter, while all to which the tutor or Anne ventured to commit themselves was that Mr. Archfield had only quitted them without notice on board the Hampshire Hog.
The first tones of the father had a certain sound of relief, "Gone to the Imperialist army to fight the Turks in Hungary!"
Poor Lady Archfield actually shrieked, and Lucy turned quite pale, while Anne caught a sort of lurid flush of joy on Sedley Archfield's features, and he was the first to exclaim, "Undutiful young dog!"
"Tut! tut!" returned Sir Philip, "he might as well have come home first, and yet I do not know but that it is the best thing he could do. There might have been difficulties in the way of getting out again, you see, my lady, as things stand now. Ay! ay! you are in the right of it, my boy. It is just as well to let things settle themselves down here before committing himself to one side or the other. 'Tis easy enough for an old fellow like me who has to let nothing go but his Commission of the Peace, but not the same for a stirring young lad; and he is altogether right as to not coming back to idle here as a rich man. It would be the ruin of him. I am glad he has the sense to see it. I was casting about to obtain an estate for him to give him occupation."
"But the wars," moaned the mother; "if he had only come home we could have persuaded him."
"The wars, my lady! Why, they will be a feather in his cap; and may be if he had come home, the Dutchman would have claimed him for his, and let King James be as misguided as he may, I cannot stomach fighting against his father's son for myself or mine. No, no; it was the best thing there was for the lad to do. You shall hear his letter, it does him honour, and you, too, Mr. Fellowes. He could not have written such a letter when he left home barely a year ago."
Sir Philip proceeded to read the letter aloud. There was a full explanation of the motives, political and private, only leaving out one, and that the most powerful of all of those which led Charles Archfield to absent himself for the present. He entreated pardon for having made the decision without obtaining permission from his father on returning home; but he had done so in view of possible obstacles to his leaving England again, and to the belief that a brief sojourn at home would cause more grief and perplexity than his absence. He further explained, as before, his reasons for secrecy towards his travelling companion, and entreated his father not to suppose for a moment that Mr. Fellowes had been in any way culpable for what he could never have suspected; warmly affectionate messages to mother and sister followed, and an assurance of feeling that 'the little one' needed for no care or affection while with them.
Lady Archfield was greatly disappointed, and cried a great deal, making sure that the poor dear lad's heart was still too sore to brook returning after the loss of his wife, who had now become the sweetest creature in the world; but Sir Philip's decision that the measure was wise, and the secrecy under the circumstances so expedient as to be pardonable, prevented all public blame; Mr. Fellowes, however, was drawn apart, and asked whether he suspected any other motive than was here declared, and which might make his pupil unwilling to face the parental brow, and he had declared that nothing could have been more exemplary than the whole demeanour of the youth, who had at first gone about as one crushed, and though slowly reviving into cheerfulness, had always been subdued, until quite recently, when the meeting with his old companion had certainly much enlivened his spirits. Poor Mr. Fellowes had been rejoicing in the excellent character he should have to give, when this evasion had so utterly disconcerted him, and it was an infinite relief to him to find that all was thought comprehensible and pardonable.
Anne might be thankful that none of the authorities thought of asking her the question about hidden motives; and Naomi, looking about with her bright eyes, thought she had perhaps judged too hardly when she saw the father's approval, and that the mother and sister only mourned at the disappointment at not seeing the beloved one.
The Archfields would not hear of letting any of the party go on to Portchester that evening. Dr. Woodford, who had ridden over for consultation with Sir Philip, must remain, he would have plenty of time for his niece by and by, and she and Miss Darpent must tell them all about the journey, and about Charles; and Anne must tell them hundreds of things about herself that they scarcely knew, for not one letter from St. Germain had ever reached her uncle.
How natural it all looked! the parlour just as when she saw it last, and the hall, with the long table being laid for supper, and the hot sun streaming in through the heavy casements. She could have fancied it yesterday that she had left it, save for the plump rosy little yearling with flaxen curls peeping out under his round white cap, who had let her hold him in her arms and fondle him all through that reading of his father's letter. Charles's child! He was her prince indeed now.
He was taken from her and delivered over to Lady Archfield to be caressed and pitied because his father would not come home 'to see his grand-dame's own beauty,' while Lucy took the guests upstairs to prepare for supper, Naomi and her maid being bestowed in the best guest-chamber, and Lucy taking her friend to her own, the scene of many a confabulation of old.
"Oh, how I love it!" cried Anne, as the door opened on the well- known little wainscotted abode. "The very same beau-pot. One would think they were the same clove gillyflowers as when I went away."
"O Anne, dear, and you are just the same after all your kings and queens, and all you have gone through;" and the two friends were locked in another embrace.
"Kings and queens indeed! None of them all are worth my Lucy."
"And now, tell me all; tell me all, Nancy, and first of all about my brother. How does he look, and is he well?"
"He looks! O Lucy, he is grown such a noble cavalier; most like the picture of that uncle of yours who was killed, and that Sir Philip always grieves for."
"My father always hoped Charley would be like him," said Lucy. "You must tell him that. But I fear he may be grave and sad."
"Graver, but not sad now."
"And you have seen him and talked to him, Anne? Did you know he was going on this terrible enterprise?"
"He spoke of it, but never told me when."
"Ah! I was sure you knew more about it than the old tutor man. You always were his little sweetheart before poor little Madam came in the way, and he would tell you anything near his heart. Could you not have stopped him?"
"I think not, Lucy; he gave his reasons like a man of weight and thought, and you see his Honour thinks them sound ones."
"Oh yes; but somehow I cannot fancy our Charley doing anything for grand, sound, musty reasons, such as look well marshalled out in a letter."
"You don't know how much older he is grown," said Anne, again, with the tell-tale colour in her cheeks. "Besides, he cannot bear to come home."
"Don't tell me that, Nan. My mother does not see it; but though he was fond of poor little Madam in a way, and tried to think himself more so, as in duty bound, she really was fretting and wearing the very life--no, perhaps not the life, but the temper--out of him. What I believe it to be the cause is, that my father must have been writing to him about that young gentlewoman in the island that he is so set upon, because she would bring a landed estate which would give Charles something to do. They say that Peregrine Oakshott ran away to escape wedding his cousin; Charley will banish himself for the like cause."
"He said nothing of it," said Anne.
"O Anne, I wish you had a landed estate! You would make him happier than any other, and would love his poor little Phil! Anne! is it so? I have guessed!" and Lucy kissed her on each cheek.
"Indeed, indeed I have not promised. I know it can never, never be-- and that I am not fit for him. Do not speak of it, Lucy? He spoke of it once as we rode together--"
"And you could not be so false as to tell him you did not love him? No, you could not?" and Lucy kissed her again.
"No," faltered Anne; "but I would not do as he wished. I have given him no troth-plight. I told him it would never be permitted. And he said no more, but he put this ring on my finger in the boat without a word. I ought not to wear it; I shall not."
"Oh yes, you shall. Indeed you shall. No one need understand it but myself, and it makes us sisters. Yes, Anne, Charley was right. My father will not consent now, but he will in due time, if he does not hear of it till he wearies to see Charles again. Trust it to me, my sweet sister that is to be."
"It is a great comfort that you know," said Anne, almost moved to tell her the greater and more perilous secret that lay in the background, but withheld by receiving Lucy's own confidence that she herself was at present tormented by her cousin Sedley's courtship. He was still, more's the pity, she said, in garrison at Portsmouth, but there were hopes of his regiment being ere long sent to the Low Countries, since it was believed to be more than half inclined to King James. In the meantime he certainly had designs on Lucy's portion, and as her father never believed half the stories of his debaucheries that were rife, and had a kindness for his only brother's orphan, she did not feel secure against his yielding so as to provide for Sedley without continuance in the Dutch service.
"I could almost follow the example of running away!" said Lucy.
"I suppose," Anne ventured to say, faltering, "that nothing has been heard of poor Mr. Oakshott."
"Nothing at all. His uncle's people, who have come home from Muscovy, know nothing of him, and it is thought he may have gone off to the plantations. The talk is that Mistress Martha is to be handed on to the third brother, but that she is not willing." It was clear that there could have been no spectres here, and Lucy went on, "But you have told me nothing yet of yourself and your doings, my Anne. How well you look, and more than ever the Court lady, even in your old travelling habit. Is that the watch the King gave you?"
In private and in public there was quite enough to tell on that evening for intimate friends who had not met for a year, and one of whom had gone through so many vicissitudes. Nor were the other two guests by any means left out of the welcome, and the evening was a very happy one.
Mr. Fellowes intimated his intention of going himself to Walwyn with the news of Miss Darpent's arrival, and Naomi accepted the invitation to remain at Portchester till she could be sent for from home.
It was not till the next morning that Anne Woodford could be alone with her uncle. As she came downstairs in the morning she saw him waiting for her; he held out his hands, and drew her out with him into the walled garden that lay behind the house.
"Child! dear child!" said he, "you are welcome to my old eyes. May God bless you, as He has aided you to be faithful alike to Him and to your King through much trial."
"Ah, sir! I have sorely repented the folly and ambition that would not heed your counsel."
"No doubt, my maid; but the spirit of humility and repentance hath worked well in you. I fear me, however, that you are come back to further trials, since probably Portchester may be no longer our home."
"Then is this new King going to persecute as in the old times you talk of? He who was brought over to save the Church!"
"He accepts the English Church, my maid, so far as it accepts him. All beneficed clergy are required to take the oath of allegiance to him before the first of August, now approaching, under pain of losing their preferments. Many of my brethren, even our own Bishop and Dean, think this merely submission to the powers that be, and that it may be lawfully done; but as I hear neither the Archbishop himself, nor my good old friends Doctors Ken and Frampton can reconcile it to their conscience, any more than my brother Stanbury, of Botley, nor I, to take this fresh oath, while the King to whom we have sworn is living. Some hold that he has virtually renounced our allegiance by his flight. I cannot see it, while he is fighting for his crown in Ireland. What say you, Anne, who have seen him; did he treat his case as that of an abdicated prince?"
"No, sir, certainly not. All the talk was of his enjoying his own again."
"How can I then, consistently with my duty and loyalty, swear to this William and Mary as my lawful sovereigns? I say not 'tis incumbent on me to refuse to live under them a peaceful life, but make oath to them as my King and Queen I cannot, so long as King James shall live. True, he has not been a friend to the Church, and has wofully trampled on the rights of Englishmen, but I cannot hold that this absolves me from my duty to him, any more than David was freed from duty to Saul. So, Anne, back must we go to the poverty in which I was reared with your own good father."
Anne might grieve, but she felt the gratification of being talked to by her uncle as a woman who could understand, as he had talked to her mother.
"The first of August!" she repeated, as if it were a note of doom.
"Yes; I hear whispers of a further time of grace, but I know not what difference that should make. A Christian man's oath may not be broken sooner or later. Well, poverty is the state blessed by our Lord, and it may be that I have lived too much at mine ease; but I could wish, dear child, that you were safely bestowed in a house of your own."
"So do not I," said Anne, "for now I can work for you."
He smiled faintly, and here Mr. Fellowes joined them; a good man likewise, but intent on demonstrating the other side of the question, and believing that the Popish, persecuting King had forfeited his rights, so that there need be no scruple as to renouncing what he had thrown up by his flight. It was an endless argument, in which each man could only act according to his own conscience, and endeavour that this conscience should be as little biassed as possible by worldly motives or animosity.
Mr. Fellowes started at once with his servant for Walwyn, and Naomi accompanied the two Woodfords to Portchester. In spite of the cavalier sentiments of her family, Naomi had too much of the spire of her Frondeur father to understand any feeling for duty towards the King, who had so decidedly broken his covenant with his people, and moreover had so abominably treated the Fellows of Magdalen College; and her pity for Anne as a sufferer for her uncle's whim quite angered her friend into hot defence of him and his cause.
The dear old parsonage garden under the gray walls, the honeysuckle and monthly roses trailing over the porch, the lake-like creek between it and green Portsdown Hill, the huge massive keep and towers, and the masts in the harbour, the Island hills sleeping in blue summer haze--Anne's heart clave to them more than ever for the knowledge that the time was short and that the fair spot must be given up for the right's sake. Certainly there was some trepidation at the thought of the vault, and she had made many vague schemes for ascertaining that which her very flesh trembled at the thought of any one suspecting; but these were all frustrated, for since the war with France had begun, the bailey had been put under repair and garrisoned by a detachment of soldiers, the vault had been covered in, there was a sentry at the gateway of the castle, and the postern door towards the vicarage was fastened up, so that though the parish still repaired to church through the wide court solitary wanderings there were no longer possible, nor indeed safe for a young woman, considering what the soldiery of that period were.
The thought came over her with a shudder as she gazed from her window at the creek where she remembered Peregrine sending Charles and Sedley adrift in the boat.
The tide was out, the mud glistened in the moonlight, but nothing was to be seen more than Anne had beheld on many a summer night before, no phantom was evoked before her eyes, no elfin-like form revealed his presence, nor did any spirit take shape to upbraid her with his unhallowed grave, so close at hand.
No, but Naomi Darpent, yearning for sympathy, came to her side, caressed her on that summer night, and told her that Mr. Fellowes had gone to ask her of her father, and though she could never love again as she had once loved, she thought if her parents wished it, she could be happy with so good a man.
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